Packers lose Jordy Nelson, but the season must go on

25 Aug
Jordy Nelson Injury

Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson suffered a season-ending right knee injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Photo Credit: foxsports.com

An uncharacteristically cool day in August became a lot colder throughout Wisconsin when the Green Bay Packers officially announced they will be without star wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire 2015 season.

Nelson suffered a “significant right knee injury” during a non-contact play in the Packers’ preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

While it may feel like the season is over after such a devastating loss, in reality, the season is just getting started.

Hearts are understandably heavy among Packers fans in Wisconsin, but using Nelson’s injury as a rationale to reduce the number of preseason games would be unwise. Sure, it’s unfortunate that he suffered a season-ending injury during what quarterback Aaron Rodgers called a “meaningless game.” But it was the Packers’ first possession of just their second preseason game.

Nelson had every reason to be on the field. Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy made a point of giving his starters more playing time during the preseason to combat slow starts that have plagued the team early in recent seasons.

Injuries can happen at any time.

Just ask the Carolina Panthers, who lost their own star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the season after suffering a torn ACL during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins.

The NFL schedule doesn’t slow down for anyone.

You can be certain no one in the Packers locker room is feeling sorry for themselves, especially Nelson. Quite frankly, there’s no time to grieve. In less than three weeks, the Packers open the regular season against the Chicago Bears. Nelson won’t be in the lineup, and nothing can be done to change that.

Instead, the Packers must focus on the players who will be available to them, and the options are plenty. If there’s any position on the Packers’ roster where they could afford a significant injury, it’s wide receiver.

There’s a silver lining in every situation. Because Nelson got hurt now, rather than just before or during the early stages of the regular season, other receivers will be given ample opportunities for reps and can better prepare for what lies ahead.

Truth be told, you can never replace a Jordy Nelson – on or off the field. It will be a collective effort. In 2014, he put together one of the best seasons in franchise history, racking up 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns.

But even in Nelson’s absence, the Packers have a number of offensive weapons. They had their sights set on breaking records this season, and their offense still has the firepower to rank among the NFL’s best in 2015.

With Nelson sidelined, opposing teams are more likely to stack the box to defend against the run, meaning Eddie Lacy will have to work even harder to shoulder the load and allow the Packers’ still-talented group of receivers to find holes in the defense.

There’s a reason Packers General Manager Ted Thompson resigned Randall Cobb to a team-friendly contract during the offseason. There’s also a reason Thompson drafted Stanford product Ty Montgomery in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft.

Those reasons have come to fruition faster than anyone could have expected.

The Packers also have a few second-year players who are primed for bigger roles this season, including wide receivers Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, and tight end Richard Rodgers.

Adams showed flashes last season and is the most likely candidate to receive Nelson’s share of targets in the passing game. He has received high praise from McCarthy, who referred to him as the MVP of the offseason. Adams and Montgomery have drawn rave reviews during training camp as well.

Considered by many to be “Jordy Lite,” Janis possesses the best size (6’3″, 220) and speed (4.42 40) of any receiver on the roster. A seventh-round pick out of Division II Saginaw Valley State a year ago, Janis is raw and needs to work on his route running ability. If he puts it all together, he could fill the deep-threat role as Nelson did, which would open up the passing game.

Richard Rodgers has emerged as the Packers’ No. 1 tight end on the depth chart. While he doesn’t scare opposing defenses with his speed, he has great hands and could be a threat down the middle of the field if teams decide to key on Lacy and the versatile receivers on the outside.

Let’s not forget about the “Aaron Rodgers factor” either. As the best quarterback in the league, Rodgers undoubtedly makes everyone around him better and has more than enough talent to work with.

In limited time, there’s a sense of urgency for the Packers’ young receivers to grow up quickly and establish a rapport with their MVP quarterback. The Packers’ mantra of “Next Man Up” will continue to be their rallying cry.

This team is far too talented and too well coached to let Nelson’s injury ruin the season before it even begins.

As long as Rodgers is healthy and under center, the Packers’ Super Bowl aspirations in 2015 remain very real.

Win it for Jordy.

Being a Blackhawks Fan in Wisconsin

2 Jun
Chicago Blackhawks

Photo Credit: picturepush.com

I’m not a Chicago fan. I’m a Blackhawks fan.

It wasn’t always this complicated.

Wisconsin born and raised, I didn’t grow up in a hockey family – I never skated. I never watched the games. When hockey highlights showed up on SportsCenter once in a blue moon, it was my cue to get off the couch and make myself a snack. It may as well have been a commercial break.

I honestly couldn’t care less about the sport. I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t want to. I couldn’t comprehend why fully grown men were allowed to drop their gloves and attempt to beat each other to a pulp. What’s the point?

Boxing on ice, I called it.

I never would have foreseen myself becoming a hockey fan, let alone supporting a team from Chicago. I hated hockey without ever giving it a chance. But perhaps I hated Chicago more.

Much more.

When I departed for college, I wanted to make a concerted effort to broaden my horizons, try something new. And boy, did I ever get the opportunity to do so.

During my freshman year, I met a guy down the hall who eventually became one of my best friends. He was from Illinois – a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

Naturally, I was around hockey more and more as the year progressed. It was only fitting that my first experience viewing a full-length hockey game featured a fight between goaltenders, something that rarely happens. But how would I know? I was a novice. More boxing on ice, I thought.

Over time, I learned about the sport.

The NHL All-Star Break was approaching, and I took it upon myself to watch all the festivities, including the Fantasy Draft. One of the alternate captains was Patrick Kane from, you guessed it, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sure, I had heard of household names like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin as I scavenged through my house for food with SportsCenter in the background during yesteryear. But Kane was the first player I gravitated toward, the first player I knew. Whenever he played, I wanted to watch.

Initially, I felt out of place cheering for a team from Chicago, but I got over it relatively quickly. After all, I came to the realization that Wisconsin doesn’t have a professional hockey team. We have the Milwaukee Admirals – the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators.

Be that as it may, the more I seriously followed the Blackhawks, the more ridicule I received from family, friends and even acquaintances who, quite simply, didn’t understand my point of view. Most of them still don’t.

Coincidentally, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup the year before, in 2010. Not only was I a “traitor,” I was a “bandwagoner.”

I couldn’t decide which one was worse. It’s just how things worked out.

People know me for my sports prowess, my dedication and passion as a fan. When questioned about my fanhood, that’s not something I take lightly. Someone once asked how I can be a Packers fan and a Blackhawks fan, suggesting I should be ashamed. That nearly drove me over the edge.

Let me be clear: the Packers will always be atop my team totem pole. I don’t have a tattoo of the logo on my chest for nothing.

My support for the Blackhawks in no way reflects how I feel about other Chicago teams, notably the Bears and Cubs.

I find great solace in the fact that the Bears only have one Super Bowl and nine World Championships, as opposed to the Packers’ four and 13, respectively. And no part of me wants to see the “Lovable Losers” at Wrigley Field win their first World Series in more than a century. Thank you, Steve Bartman.

The Bears are to the Packers what the Cubs are to the Brewers.

But what about the Blackhawks?

There’s no hockey rivalry for folks from Wisconsin to get upset about. It’s only a Chicago thing to them.

Yes, I understand the Blackhawks reside in the Windy City, but please save your breath if you plan on telling me how close it is to Milwaukee and everything we hold dear as Wisconsinites. I don’t need a geography lesson.

Chicago is just a city. The Blackhawks are so much more than that.

I fell in love with hockey and the Blackhawks to the point where I wanted to share it with someone, the same way my friend did with me.

I force-fed my old man with more hockey than he could handle until he reluctantly began watching Blackhawks games with me on a regular basis. He was even more dead-set against being a hockey fan than I was at first. But just a few years later, we’re splitting a subscription to NHL GameCenter so we have access to every game.

He sarcastically tells me how he was perfectly happy with the way things were before I introduced him to hockey. He didn’t need the additional stress that comes along with being a Blackhawks fan: the Game 7s, the mad scrambles with an empty net. Yet he thanks me for bringing it all into his life.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin is unique – a fraternity of sorts. I’ve come across fellow Blackhawks fans a number of times, but conversations don’t usually take place. We smile, nod and continue on. We already know what it’s about: pride.

For 18 years, I wedged the door shut on something that has increasingly become a huge part of my life. I was close-minded and ignorant – oblivious to the possibilities that have since become a reality.

I’ve been to the Blackhawks Convention, several games, including Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and even a Stanley Cup victory parade with two million strong; none of them cared about my ties to the Packers or Brewers.

Being a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin isn’t as sacrilegious as it seems. Open your mind. Give it a chance. There’s no better time than the present.

I never used to have a hockey team. Now I do.

And it’s not a Chicago thing.

Deflategate: Should Tom Brady Be Suspended?

7 May
Tom Brady

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady might face a suspension after his role in the “Deflategate” scandal.
Photo Credit: si.com

We didn’t need a 243-page report to tell us Tom Brady probably cheated during the New England Patriots’ 45-7 playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts in last season’s AFC Championship Game.

But that’s what we received Wednesday.

Ted Wells, the architect behind the recent Wells Report, stated it was “more probable than not” that Brady was “at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

Four months of investigating has led us to “more probable than not.” I could have told you that. But we already knew.

The less-than-definitive report simply confirmed Brady might have, potentially, probably had something to do with the footballs being deflated. That’s all the confirmation we need.

The report states locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski “participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee.”

Am I supposed to believe these were a couple of rogue employees who decided to deflate footballs on their own? Of course not. Why would they without their star quarterback knowing about it?

Now that’s the million dollar question. It also supports the notion that Brady did, in fact, have something – if not everything – to do with it.

Brady handles the ball on every offensive snap. A 37-year-old quarterback of his tenure would undoubtedly notice if a ball was underinflated. Yet he never mentioned anything.

Additionally, Brady refused to hand over his cell phone to aid in the investigation after exchanging phone calls with one of the equipment assistants just days after news broke of ball-tampering suspicions. This suggests he had something to hide.

Intentionally deflating footballs might seem like a petty violation at face value, but it’s all about the principle. In the grand scheme of things, I care a lot more about players taking HGH or other illegal substances to gain an unfair advantage over their competition, as it’s a more prominent league-changing issue. But that remains a conversation to be had another day.

Brady cheated. That’s a fact. You can’t deny it. You can’t defend it. He and his accomplices altered the centerpiece of the game: the football. In doing so, even by the slightest margin, he gained a competitive advantage over his opponent.

Forget about the final score of the Patriots’ 45-7 shellacking of the Colts. Forget about the fact that the Patriots actually scored more points after the deflated balls were replaced at halftime. These points are rendered moot. They don’t condone cheating.

And that’s exactly what Brady did, thus corrupting the integrity of the game. I’m not suggesting the Patriots would have lost to the Colts – not by any stretch. Brady’s indiscretion wasn’t worth a 38-point difference on the scoreboard. But if the Patriots were the better team, why would Brady feel the need to cheat?

Brady likely will, and should, be suspended – a small price to pay for a quarterback with four Super Bowl rings and a spot waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.

If Brady’s actions are any indication, he doesn’t care about his legacy, nor do the Patriots. New England is no stranger to rule infringements.

Back in 2007, the team was punished after a staff member was caught videotaping the New York Jets’ defensive signals, known as “Spygate.” There’s a great deal of irony that eight years later, surveillance videos showed McNally had taken footballs into a bathroom, where he remained for 100 seconds, before taking them back to the field before the game.

There’s an easy solution: have the NFL provide a set of league-mandated footballs rather than allow each team to use its own.

I don’t care whether it’s one game, two games, four games or even an entire season; Brady needs to be suspended. Commissioner Roger Goodell must take action and send a message that cheating, no matter the severity, will not be tolerated in the NFL.

I’d be in favor of further punishment to the Patriots’ organization as well. It starts from the top. Owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick may not have had any knowledge of Brady’s transgressions. But Goodell once said, “ignorance is not an excuse,” regarding the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal in 2012. That resulted in major suspensions for Saints head coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis.

A similar ruling could apply here. Just because Kraft and Belichick were unaware doesn’t mean they should be exempt from punishment. After all, the Patriots have been involved in controversy before.

At this point, the Patriots’ integrity is difficult to question. Why?

Because there’s no integrity left – at least more probable than not.

Introducing the Green Bay Packers’ 2015 Draft Class

5 May

Damarious Randall – Safety, Arizona State (30th overall)

Demarious Randall

Damarious Randall
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Technically listed as a safety, Randall was a virtual unknown in Packerland for obvious reasons. The Packers didn’t need a safety. They needed a cornerback. So when the Packers selected Randall with their first-round pick in the draft, eyebrows were understandably raised throughout Wisconsin. But fear not. Randall has experience playing man-to-man coverage as a slot corner, his most likely landing spot given Casey Hayward’s impending transition to the outside.

Randall was highly regarded by many as the best cover man in the entire draft. With the NFL’s pass-happy reputation and an increasing number of teams running the spread offense, players who can cover come at a premium. Randall should be able to step in and compete right away. The Packers’ pick was in almost immediately after they were on the clock, further proving Ted Thompson got his man.

Quinten Rollins – Cornerback, Miami (OH) (62nd overall)

Quinten Rollins

Quinten Rollins
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

Thompson further addressed the need at cornerback by selecting Rollins in round two. With a basketball background, Rollins played just one year of college football, but that’s all it took to make an impression on the Packers. In his lone season, Rollins had seven interceptions and earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. His ball-hawking tendencies appeal to the Packers, who often thrive when forcing turnovers.

Rollins’ ability is raw; his upside, tremendous. Competition is healthy for any position group, and the additions of Rollins and Randall will certainly add to it in the cornerbacks room. The Packers’ secondary appears to be in good shape after being a serious question mark following the losses of Tramon Williams and Davon House in free agency.

Ty Montgomery – Wide Receiver, Stanford (94th overall)

Ty Montgomery

Ty Montgomery
Photo Credit: stanforddaily.com

It’s difficult not to be sold on a player who has been referred to as a bigger version of Randall Cobb. At 6’0″, 221 pounds, Montgomery is built for strength. But he also has quickness, making him yet another versatile option for the Packers. You can never have too many weapons for Aaron Rodgers.

Montgomery also could become a threat in the backfield – as we’ve seen sparingly from Cobb the past few seasons – and provide a much-needed spark to special teams as a dynamic return man. That would allow Cobb to avoid further injury risk and focus primarily on his duties as a slot receiver. The Packers likely invested a third-round pick in Montgomery to be more than a special teams contributor. In time, he could be a primary fixture in the Packers’ passing attack.

Jake Ryan – Linebacker, Michigan (129th overall)

Jake Ryan

Jake Ryan
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Ryan will inevitably be one of the most popular selections among Packers fans for the sole reason he addresses an immediate need. He also provided solid value in the fourth round. After tearing his ACL during his junior season in 2013, Ryan recovered in just six month’s time and moved from outside to inside linebacker. Ryan’s instincts have been praised, and he tested well at the combine with a sneaky 4.61 40. He has a nose for the football and a nonstop engine, similar to Clay Matthews.

Ryan is decent in coverage but will have to improve that part of his game to become the complete three-down linebacker the Packers need. Expectations must be tempered and lofty comparisons held in check, but Ryan has the potential to become a day-one starter at inside linebacker for the Packers’ defense.

Brett Hundley – Quarterback, UCLA (147th overall)

Brett Hundley

Brett Hundley
Photo Credit: bleacherreport.com

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has often expressed his desire to get his hands on a developmental quarterback. Enter Hundley. Projected by many to be drafted in the second round, Hundley was scooped up in the fifth round after the Packers traded their original draft pick, plus a seventh-rounder to the New England Patriots – a small price to pay for a talented prospect with as much upside as Hundley possesses.

It’s unlikely that Hundley was brought in to become Rodgers’ future replacement, as Rodgers is just 31 years old and coming off his second MVP season. Nevertheless, the Packers’ have had issues at backup quarterback in recent years, and Rodgers hasn’t exactly been injury-free. Scott Tolzien is currently entrenched in the role as Rodgers’ backup, but given a season under McCarthy’s tutelage, Hundley could overtake Tolzien by season’s end.

Aaron Ripkowski – Fullback, Oklahoma (206th overall)

Aaron Ripkowski

Aaron Ripkowski
Photo Credit: crimsonandcreammachine.com

Ripkowski appears to be the second coming of fan-favorite John Kuhn, who is in the twilight of his career. Effective as a blocker, ball-carrier and receiver out of the backfield, Ripkowski has all the tools to contribute in the Packers’ explosive offense. He also offers an immediate impact on special teams, a primary point of emphasis during the offseason. Chants of “KUUUUUHN” won’t last forever, but Ripkowski can seamlessly fill the void when Kuhn decides to hang up the cleats.

Christian Ringo – Defensive End, Louisiana-Lafayette (210th overall)

Christian Ringo

Christian Ringo
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

Labeled as a long snapper during ESPN’s draft coverage – much to my amusement – Ringo must have had more to offer to the Packers. As a matter of fact, he does. A disruptive pass-rusher in college, with 11.5 sacks last season, Ringo already has drawn comparisons to teammate Mike Daniels, one of the anchors along the Packers’ defensive line. Ringo is effective against the run as well, recording 20.5 tackles for loss in 2014. He’s a sleeper.

Kennard Backman – Tight End, Alabama-Birmingham (213th overall)

Kennard Backman

Kennard Backman
Photo Credit: provationsgroup.org

The UAB football program closed down at the end of last season, but Backman had the urge to continue his career in the NFL. The Packers took a chance on him with their final pick of the draft. With 39 receptions for 399 yards and three touchdowns in his final collegiate season, Backman didn’t have eye-popping numbers. But at 6’3″, 243 pounds, he does have the versatility and athleticism the Packers covet in their tight ends.

The Packers haven’t featured a tight end who can stretch the middle of the field since Jermichael Finley, and current options Richard Rodgers and Andrew Quarless don’t necessarily scare opposing defenses. Rodgers has shown flashes with his great hands, but he isn’t a threat after the catch. And Quarless’ contract is up at the end of next season, meaning if Backman impresses, he might have a shot at a starting job in 2016. Expect nothing more than special teams duty for now, if he makes the team.

Which of the Packers’ draft picks are you most excited about?

Green Bay Packers Draft Preview

28 Apr
NFL Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft begins Thursday night in Chicago.
Photo Credit: gannett-cdn.com

With the 30th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select…

Ah, it’s that time of year, football fans: draft week. Optimism reigns supreme throughout the league’s 32 front offices and fanbases alike. Every team has a chance to win Super Bowl 50. Except the Bears, which is ironic considering Chicago is the host location of this year’s draft.

All jokes aside, the dawn of a new season is upon us. And with that season comes an opportunity for the Packers and their fans to move on from arguably the biggest collapse in NFL postseason history. The Packers’ 28-22 overtime loss against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game will never be erased from memory. It stings. It will always sting. But it’s time to move on.

No Super Bowl festivities took place in Titletown at season’s end. Yet there were still celebrations in the form of going-away parties for A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Packers fans even offered to help pack their suitcases for them as they departed for their new homes in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, respectively.

OK, maybe that didn’t happen. But I’m sure no one held the door for them on the way out of Green Bay.

The duo’s abysmal performance on gamedays surely had Packers fans raising their right hands and insisting they could play the inside linebacker position more effectively. And, to be fair, some of them probably could.

Funerals took place to mourn the careers of cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, who left the fruitful pastures of Green Bay for train wrecks in Cleveland and Jacksonville. But both players will rest peacefully, knowing they’re being paid a pretty penny to never sniff a Super Bowl again.

Nevertheless, the offseason continued. Free agency came and went. Outside free agents remained unsigned. And as sure as the sunrise, Ted Thompson haters came out of hibernation, equipped with pitchforks and picket signs.

I don’t understand how so much unwarranted criticism can be directed toward a general manager who has led the Packers on one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. It’s not good enough, apparently. As human beings, and especially sports fans, we’re never satisfied.

This generation of Packers fans has become accustomed to winning, seemingly unaware of the preceding dark ages that took place during the ’70s and ’80s. Coaches and general managers from other teams would threaten to trade players to Green Bay if they underperformed. It was a wasteland.

The Packers are thriving in today’s NFL, and their fans should appreciate these times because success doesn’t last forever. Keep things in perspective.

Year in and year out, fans beg Thompson to forgo his obligation to the salary cap and throw massive sums of money at free agents who, in all honesty, are free agents for a reason.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson.
Photo Credit: fansided.com

Money. Injuries. Age. Regardless of the red flags pinned to each free agent’s backside, more often than not, a cheaper asset is available in the draft.

And how, exactly, has Thompson managed to build a perennial contender?

Through the draft.

This is where Thompson earns his money. Sure, he has undoubtedly made some poor selections he’d like to have back, but it’s unrealistic to expect any general manager to hit home runs with every draft pick.

For the free agency fanatics, consider this: a bad draft pick is far less detrimental to a team’s salary cap than a free agent acquisition that doesn’t pan out. You don’t build a roster through free agency. You merely supplement it. Thompson has done that. Next time the Packers win a game, win the division, win the Super Bowl, don’t forget about the man in the booth who makes it all happen.

And I digress. Let’s get started.

With key contributors returning, such as Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga, the Packers remain equally as formidable as the squad that came within 3:52 of reaching the Super Bowl last season. A strong draft could potentially put the Packers over the top. And for a team that’s built on a draft-and-develop philosophy, that’s not such a bad proposition.

But there are holes to be filled.

Inside Linebacker

Hawk and Jones aren’t coming back, much to the relief of many fans. But someone has to step in alongside probable starter Sam Barrington and fill the void, make a difference – something Hawk and Jones didn’t do, at least not in a positive way. Clay Matthews moved inside temporarily last season to help shore up the run defense, but the Packers would ideally like to send him back outside as a permanent pass-rushing threat.

A number of quality inside linebackers could be available to the Packers in the first round. At 30th overall, the best options will likely include Eric Kendricks (UCLA), Benardrick McKinney (Mississippi State), Stephone Anthony (Clemson), Denzel Perryman (Miami – Fla.) and Paul Dawson (TCU).

Inside linebacker is the Packers’ greatest need, but none of the aforementioned prospects received a first-round grade and there isn’t a standout player in this class.

Thompson believes in drafting the best available player, not necessarily based on need. He doesn’t reach for players, either. For that reason, the Packers could go a different route.

Cornerback

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the Packers’ first-round selection at 21st overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Photo Credit: jrn.com

With the departures of Williams and House, the Packers need to address cornerback early in the draft. Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde were primarily slot corners last season. Hyde also played safety until rookie fan-favorite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took over full time. Either Hayward or Hyde will be thrust into a starting job opposite Sam Shields. But depth at the position must be improved.

The following cornerback prospects have more talent than their inside linebacker counterparts and could potentially be available when the Packers are on the clock: Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), Byron Jones (Connecticut), Marcus Peters (Washington), Eric Rowe (Utah) and Jalen Collins (LSU).

Defensive Tackle

Defensive tackle isn’t as much of an immediate need as inside linebacker and cornerback, but it’s worth considering for the future. B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion are both returning on one-year deals, which is encouraging in the short term but concerning in the long term. Additionally, Raji missed all of last season with a torn biceps, and Guion was arrested during the offseason.

The best options at defensive tackle who might be available at 30th overall are Malcom Brown (Texas), Eddie Goldman (Florida State), Jordan Phillips (Oklahoma) and Carl Davis (Iowa).

The Packers could also address tight end, but unless they land Maxx Williams (Minnesota) or Clive Walford (Miami – Fla.) it’s not worth taking one until later in the draft.

Most experts agree this is a relatively weak draft class. Many believe the bottom of the first round will feature second-round talent. This puts the Packers in a difficult position – a position I wouldn’t be surprised if Thompson trades out of.

As a matter of fact, that’s my prediction, albeit an unsexy one.

Trading down would allow the Packers to acquire an extra pick and select an inside linebacker at the top of the second round, where the value matches the need.

Thompson loves to trade down. Historically he’s been successful in doing so. With the 30th overall pick in hand, the Packers are in prime position to move out of the first round and still draft a player near the top of their board.

Over the years, fans have come to expect the unexpected from Thompson. It wouldn’t surprise me if he selected an offensive lineman and sent Packers nation into an uproar.

Regardless of how Thompson handles the draft, the Packers are locked and loaded for another Super Bowl run this season.

Enjoy the ride.

Winning means more to Randall Cobb

8 Mar
Randall Cobb

Randall Cobb scored a career-high 12 touchdowns for the Packers last season.
Photo Credit: fox11online.com

Welcome to Green Bay Packers immortality, Randall Cobb.

It’s far too early to label Cobb as a future Packers Hall of Famer, but he took a big step in the right direction on Saturday, when he accepted a 4-year contract worth $40 million to remain in Green Bay. The deal includes $17 million guaranteed.

A whirlwind of media activity reported Cobb received at least six or seven offers from other teams during the early stages of the NFL’s legal tampering period prior to the start of free agency on Tuesday.

Cobb’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, was seeking an annual salary of $12 million, and the Oakland Raiders announced they were willing to pay $11 million for Cobb’s services. An inevitable bidding war between the Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, among others, would have increased the value on Cobb’s price tag if he reached free agency.

But Cobb chose Green Bay.

It doesn’t matter who you cheer for – unless you’re a disheartened Jaguars or  Raiders fan reeling in the sorrows of continued mediocrity – it’s easy to respect a professional athlete who leaves a sizable chunk of change on the table to stay put.

For that reason, Cobb has instantly earned the good graces of the Packers faithful. If he wasn’t a fan-favorite before, he certainly is now.

Sit back and watch those jersey sales skyrocket, Randall. I’m already on board.

From day one, it was evident Cobb knew what it takes to be a Packer. He never seemed like a money-grabber who would attempt to gouge the front office for every penny when his rookie contract expired.

Cobb’s departure in free agency would have been an unfathomable, albeit totally realistic, possibility. General Manager Ted Thompson doesn’t allow his coveted assets to sign elsewhere unless he has a justified reason for it.

After rejecting the Packers’ initial offer – a 5-year deal worth $8-9 million annually – it appeared as if Cobb’s asking price was out of the Packers’ range.

Cobb was unfairly compared to Greg Jennings and James Jones throughout the process, as fans feared he would leave for more money.

When Jennings and Jones left Green Bay, both players were pushing 30 and already had a Super Bowl title to their name. At that point in their respective careers, I don’t blame them for cashing in one last time. Don’t forget, the Packers never offered Jones a deal when he departed for the Oakland Raiders a season ago.

In any profession, the goal is to maximize earning potential. I doubt any of us would walk into our employer’s office on a Monday morning and ask for a pay cut. Why should athletes be held to a different standard and settle for less money? Especially when that athlete is a thriving 24-year-old superstar entering the prime of his career?

Cobb didn’t have to settle. But he gets it. He wants to win.

The richest players in the NFL are those with a Super Bowl ring.

Cobb also realizes that the value of catching passes from reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers outweighs the monetary value he could have found elsewhere. Would it really be worth $2 million more each year to play alongside Derek Carr or Blake Bortles?

The idea of teaming up with a young, unpolished quarterback must have held substance in Cobb’s decision to return to Green Bay. One doesn’t simply file for divorce from the best quarterback in the game.

Other receivers dream of Cobb’s situation.

Cobb has a unique and versatile skill set, but his success is due largely in part to his triggerman. Last season, Cobb posted career-highs of 91 catches, 1,287 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.

Thanks, Mr. Rodgers.

Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson

In 2014, Packers receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb became the first duo in team history to each score more than 10 touchdowns in a single season.
Photo Credit: driverlayer.com

Let’s not forget about Cobb’s running mate, Jordy Nelson, either. Polar opposites in terms of playing style, yet equally talented, Nelson and Cobb are the most formidable wide receiver duo in the NFL. In 2014, they became the first tandem in Packers history to each catch more than 10 touchdown passes in a single season.

They have a golden opportunity to continue something special in Green Bay.

Nelson and Cobb are under contract through 2018. Rodgers is signed through 2019. The Packers will be able to keep the band together for the foreseeable future, something that could spell trouble for the rest of the league.

By staying in Green Bay, Cobb has placed himself in a prime position to receive another massive contract when he’s 28. That will take care of itself. For now, he has his sights set on the greater goal: winning his first Super Bowl.

That could happen sooner than later.

Ball-Out Fallout: The Real Issue With the Dez Bryant Ruling

13 Jan
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledges the home fans at Lambeau Field following a 26-21 victory over the Cowboys.
Credit: bleacherreport.com

A week removed from a conspiracy theory that turned Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones into Hugh Hefner – except instead of Playboy bunnies, he had NFL officials wrapped around his finger – the Cowboys were on the receiving end of a controversial call of their own in the Divisional Round of the NFL postseason.

Most of you have probably seen Dez Bryant’s “catch-that-wasn’t” by now. It’s nearly impossible to scroll through any social media feed without stumbling upon an image, video or opinion about the topic. Some opinions are stronger than others. Just ask any sympathy-seeking Cowboys fan or even Bryant himself, who insists it was a catch.

Bryant, normally a fiery competitor, was in disbelief after his catch was overturned late in the fourth quarter. He looked like a self-pitied adolescent whose old man took away his PlayStation.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was shocked after his catch was overturned.
Credit: cbssports.com

Hold on, let me get my violin.

Amidst the chaos, “catch” has lost all meaning.

No, literally.

Once the officials overturned the ruling, the outcome of Sunday’s clash between the Cowboys and Green Bay Packers became irrelevant.

Packers win? Cowboys win?

It no longer mattered. Forget about the game.

Because this, this is what people would be talking about.

It’s a call that many believe single-handedly cost the Cowboys the game and sent the Packers to Seattle for the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks.

Wait, the stakes were that high? You wouldn’t know it based on how much media coverage has been centered around a non-catch which, at this point, has no significance. What’s done is done.

The Packers are essentially being discredited for their victory because of an accurate call based on a rule. I’m not sure what’s so difficult to understand. Bryant initially caught the ball, but as he went to the ground, the ball came loose, resulting in an incompletion. He did not complete the process of the catch. The rule was properly enforced. If you want to be upset about something, be upset about the existence of the rule, not the call itself.

It’s truly a shame that one play, one call, one rule is overshadowing what was otherwise a tremendous duel between two of the NFL’s most storied franchises. But I’m not surprised by the nation’s reaction.

We love controversy. This is the NFL edition of reality TV. It would have been too perfect, too easy for the game to be decided by the players – not sexy enough for national media coverage.

As the fallout continued, I read an opinion of a Cowboys fan who had the audacity to suggest the Packers should forfeit the game because of the call.

Come on. Let’s be real here.

Did the Cowboys forfeit after they benefited from questionable officiating in the Wild Card round against the Detroit Lions?

I didn’t think so.

Except this time, the officiating wasn’t questionable. The refs got it right.

I can understand the frustration of Cowboys fans everywhere. If Bryant would have come down with the ball and Dallas would have gone on to win the game, we all would have been blessed with witnessing another bro-mantic embrace between Jones and Governor Chris Christie in the booth. Yeah, because that’s good TV.

In all seriousness, I’m human. I sympathize with Cowboys fans that this happened the way it did at such a critical point in the game, but I simply can’t endorse not giving the Packers their due diligence.

Did the ruling of an incompletion change Dan Bailey’s missed field goal in the second quarter? What about DeMarco Murray’s fumble in the third quarter? One (right) call doesn’t decide the game, ladies and gentlemen. It didn’t cost the Cowboys anything.

It would be foolish to assume the Cowboys would have automatically won the game if the call on the field was not overturned, yet that seems to be the popular opinion. They would have had the ball at the one-yard line with a chance to retake the lead, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL.

What if Tony Romo botched the snap on the next play? He’s done it in big moments before. (Seattle, anyone?) What if the Packers defense made a goal-line stand? These what-ifs are every bit as relevant as saying, “what if Bryant made the catch?”

But for the sake of conversation, I’ll entertain the thought of a Cowboys touchdown on that drive. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the Cowboys scored and converted the two-point conversion to take a three-point lead (see, I’m even being generous with my assumptions). The Packers would have gotten the ball back with no less than three minutes remaining and a timeout, needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win. With the best quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers and a hot offense, I like those odds.

After all, in the real game, the Packers drove down the field and killed the clock after the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs.

Not only did the Packers kill the clock, they also killed the Cowboys’ Super Bowl hopes and advanced one game closer to another title. That should be the focus of the game.

Now, can we get back to football?